The German word for cell phone is Handy, and getting them was - like most things seem to be in this country - more complicated than it appeared. We couldn't use our credit cards to buy monthly service, we had to first have a German bank account. Setting up a bank account in most cases requires going in person, which requires an appointment. We've read stories of Americans being required by German banks to provide proof of income or extremely high minimum balances, but in our case the Deutsche Bank representative asked for our passports and proof of residence (a registration certificate from the Bürgeramt - the local authorities). Then, you have to wait about a week for all of your different documents to come from the bank in the post - endless pin numbers and access codes and more. Finally, with everything in hand, we were able to order our phone service.
Fortunately we didn't need to buy new phones. We simply ordered new SIM cards, and then we unlocked our AT&T iPhones so that they could accept the new cards from a different provider. This is a relatively easy process if you're out-of-contract with AT&T. You submit an online request to AT&T and within a few days they confirm with you by email that your device is unlocked, as long as you meet their requirements.
We signed up for service from O2, one of the larger providers here. We also looked at T-Mobile or Telekom or whatever it's actually called here (it's a German company, the US version is a subsidiary), and Vodafone, as well as some smaller cheap-o companies. But O2 had the best deal for month-to-month service with sufficient data and EU-roaming packages, coming in under 40 euros each. Of course, signing a one-year contract would be cheaper, but since we felt clueless, we didn't want to commit that long right away to one company, and the difference wasn't that great, and still a better deal than what we were getting back in the States.
|Is that DPD? No. Wait, is THAT DPD? No. Oh, SIM cards, where art thou?|
Once we had them, we backed up our phones and switched the SIM cards. Aside from the embarrassingly long amount of time we wasted struggling with fitting the mother******* nano SIM cards from O2 into the micro SIM adapter for the iPhone, it was very easy to activate the new cards and start texting and calling other German numbers! It felt very liberating. We now can use google maps and facebook outside of wifi without fear of massive charges.
Next is transferring our US numbers to Google Voice and quitting AT&T........